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Saving fish in Gunlock Reservoir

Biologists and volunteers catch and move fish

GUNLOCK RESERVOIR — Water levels in southwestern Utah are the lowest they've been in years. Many of the reservoirs are at critically low levels. And some of the streams are barely flowing.

This largemouth bass is one of many that DWR biologists moved to Garrison Reservoir.

This largemouth bass is one of many that DWR biologists moved to Garrison Reservoir.

Photo by Mike Hadley

Richard Hepworth, regional fisheries manager for the Division of Wildlife Resources, says sometimes biologists have to get creative to manage fish during a drought. "Even with low water levels," he says, "in some areas, we can usually preserve fish populations using some aggressive management techniques."

Gunlock Reservoir is a prime example. The water level at Gunlock is the lowest it's been in years. Combined with some siltation that occurred in the past, the reservoir doesn't have enough water to support the fish that live there.

"Gunlock has been a great warm water fishery for many years," Hepworth says. "Bass, crappie and bluegill do really well there. But the water level has gotten so low that we have to do something different to save some fish."

That 'something different' involved recruiting a group of volunteers to come to Gunlock and fish.

On the morning of June 30, several anglers from various bass fishing clubs, and members of Utah's Dedicated Hunter program, showed up — with rods and reels and bass boats — to help biologists catch as many fish as possible.

(Utah State Parks and the Washington County Water Conservancy District also provided help and support.)

Once the fish were caught, biologists moved them to various waters. "All of the smallmouth bass were sent to Newcastle Reservoir," says DWR Regional Fisheries Biologist Mike Hadley. "The crappie, and many of the largemouth bass and bluegill, were released in Garrison Reservoir. The remainder of the largemouth bass and bluegill were released in community fishing ponds in central Utah."

Regarding smallmouth bass, Hepworth says the DWR has an agreement with the federal government to not put smallmouth into any ponds or lakes that drain into the Virgin River. "Smallmouth do really well in river systems," he says. "If they get into the Virgin River, they'll prey on native fish and out compete them for food and space."

Gunlock is one of the water bodies that's connected with the river. "All of the smallmouth have to come out of Gunlock," Hepworth says. "In addition to the help we received on June 30, we're using an electrofishing boat to catch even more smallmouth."

Hepworth says electrofishing boats send an electric current through the water. The current momentarily stuns fish, and the fish float to the surface. Biologists then net the fish and place them in live wells. "After a few seconds, the fish revive," Hepworth says. "They don't suffer any ill effects from the experience."

Hepworth says smallmouth bass were placed in Gunlock illegally. Since being placed there, they've increased in number. "If we can't eradicate the smallmouth by moving them to other waters," he says, "we may have to remove all of the fish in the reservoir by treating it at a later date."

For more information, call the DWR's Southern Region office at 435-865-6100.

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